Alonso Wins Heart-Stopping Race at Imola

World Championship leader Fernando Alonso completed his hat-trick run of victories on Sunday when held off a flying Michael Schumacher to secure a hard-fought win in a thrilling San Marino Grand Prix

Alonso Wins Heart-Stopping Race at Imola

Alonso, who started from the front row of the grid, looked set to cruise to another smooth success after pole man Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren expired early on to leave him a clear run to the flag.

But Schumacher fought his way through the field from 13th to third thanks to a long first stint then passed Jenson Button for second and honed in on Alonso but could not find a way past the Spaniard.

Briton Button, who finally reached the end of a race for the first time this year, could still be satisfied that he had displayed his team's return to form with a satisfying third place finish.

But it was World Champion Michael Schumacher and his Ferrari team who sprung the biggest surprise with a stunning fightback that proved they have plenty left to give to this year's World Championship race.

Austrian Alex Wurz, who was called up to replace the injured Juan Pablo Montoya this weekend, coped with the pressure of his first race in four-and-a-half years and just missed out on a podium place when he came in fourth.

The McLaren driver, who usually tests away from the limelight, showed he has lost none of his racing talent as he worked his way up from seventh on the grid and held off a charging Takuma Sato, who had to settle for fifth.

Italian Jarno Trulli, of Toyota, had finished second in the last two races but he could not stay on the pace in the cooler conditions and had to settle for seventh place behind sixth-placed Sauber driver Jacques Villeneuve.

There were finally smiles at Sauber for Villeneuve when the under-pressure Canadian held things together to score his first points for the team in sixth as German Ralf Schumacher came home eighth for Toyota.

Raikkonen made a quick get-away from pole position to hold off the usually fast-starting Renault of Alonso and the whole field made it through the tight first corner without any troubles.

Trulli made a strong start to pass Mark Webber's Williams and move into fourth behind Button while Sato also passed Webber but lost the place again and dropped to sixth by the end of the first lap.

With just two laps completed Raikkonen had a lead of 2.6 seconds on Alonso with Button a further three seconds back but it all went wrong for Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella when he went off at Tamburello on lap six.

Raikkonen slowed with a problem on lap nine and Alonso passed him to take the lead before the Finnish driver pulled into the pits to retire. Friesacher also retired when his Minardi car ground to a halt on the same lap.

Alonso had an 8.4-second lead on second-placed Button by the end of lap 10 with Trulli now up to third in the lead Toyota followed by Webber in fourth and Sato fifth, 18.5 seconds behind.

Massa lost a part of his front wing on lap 16 and was forced to pit for a new nose before Rubens Barrichello brought his Ferrari at the end of lap 17 with an electrical problem.

Barrichello went out again but his race would not last much longer and to the dismay of the Tifosi fans he pulled into the pits to post his second retirement of the season just one lap later.

Sato passed Webber into the first corner on lap 22 and made it stick despite Webber putting up a strong defence before pitting, along with Trulli, at the end of the lap.

Leader Alonso stopped at the end of lap 23, as did Sato, then Button came in at the end of lap 24 and came out in second with his teammate Sato not far behind him in third.

Wurz stopped on lap 25 then Michael Schumacher, who was the latest of the lead drivers to pit and had climbed up to second, stopped on lap 27 and only dropped back to third, although he was half a minute behind Alonso.

Schumacher continued to push and closed in on the leaders by one second per lap in the middle part of the race as Sauber driver Felipe Massa challenged Red Bull driver David Coulthard and clattered into his left sidepod on lap 38.

Alonso pitted for his second stop on lap 42, much earlier than his chasing rivals, and Schumacher then chased down Button for the lead, which he took from him with an impressive move at the Variante Alta on lap 47.

Button pitted at the end of lap 48 and Schumacher stopped at the end of lap 49 to come out just behind Alonso, who had resumed the lead, and set up a 13-lap sprint race to the chequered flag.

PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS

The San Marino Grand Prix
Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola, San Marino;
62 laps; 305.609km;
Weather: Cloudy.

Classified:

Pos  Driver        Team                  Time        
 1.  Alonso        Renault          (M)  1h27:41.921
 2.  M.Schumacher  Ferrari          (B)  +     0.215
 3.  Button        BAR-Honda        (M)  +    10.481
 4.  Wurz          McLaren-Mercedes (M)  +    27.554
 5.  Sato          BAR-Honda        (M)  +    34.783
 6.  Villeneuve    Sauber-Petronas  (M)  +  1:04.442
 7.  Trulli        Toyota           (M)  +  1:10.258
 8.  R.Schumacher  Toyota           (M)  +  1:11.841
 9.  Heidfeld      Williams-BMW     (M)  +  1:11.282
10.  Webber        Williams-BMW     (M)  +  1:23.297
11.  Liuzzi        Red Bull-Cosworth(M)  +  1:23.764
12.  Massa         Sauber-Petronas  (M)  +     1 lap
13.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Cosworth(M)  +     1 lap
14.  Karthikeyan   Jordan-Toyota    (B)  +     1 lap
15.  Monteiro      Jordan-Toyota    (B)  +     1 lap

Fastest Lap: M.Schumacher, 1:21.858

Not Classified/Retirements:

Driver        Team                  On Lap
Albers        Minardi-Cosworth (B)    21
Barrichello   Ferrari          (B)    19
Raikkonen     McLaren-Mercedes (M)    10
Friesacher    Minardi-Cosworth (B)    9
Fisichella    Renault          (M)    6


World Championship Standing, Round 4:                

Drivers:                    Constructors:             
 1.  Alonso        36        1.  Renault           46
 2.  Trulli        18        2.  Toyota            28
 3.  R.Schumacher  10        3.  McLaren-Mercedes  24
 4.  M.Schumacher  10        4.  Ferrari           18
 5.  Fisichella    10        5.  Williams-BMW      13
 6.  Coulthard      9        6.  Red Bull-Cosworth 12
 7.  Montoya        8        7.  BAR-Honda         10
 8.  Barrichello    8        8.  Sauber-Petronas    5
 9.  Raikkonen      7       
10.  Webber         7       
11.  Heidfeld       6       
12.  Button         6       
13.  Wurz           5       
14.  de la Rosa     4       
15.  Sato           4       
16.  Klien          3       
17.  Villeneuve     3       
18.  Massa          2       
       
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